Midair Refueling is Drone’s Next Challenge

By Scott Spangler on September 16th, 2013 | Comments Off

The refueling probe on this Learjet isn’t the latest option available from the venerable business jet manufacturer. It’s not connected to the airframe’s plumbing, but it is an integral part of a flight test program at Navy Pax River. What you cannot see is that this Lear is also equipped with the navigation, command & control, and vision systems used in the Navy’s X-47B.

As a surrogate for the carrier-based drone, the Lear is assessing the its autonomous refueling capabilities and performance for both Navy and Air Force aerial refueling techniques. There were two pilots aboard the Lear, but they were passengers during the Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) tests. This was just the first step in demonstrating the technology “that will enable unmanned systems to to safely approach and maneuver around tanker aircraft,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, manager of the Navy’s unmanned combat air system program.

AAR relies on the same datalink and precision relative GPS algorithms employed in autonomous systems that make it possible for the X-47 to land on a carrier. The next test will happen this fall, when the surrogate Lear, using X-47 software and hardware, will fly a completely autonomous refueling procedure, from rendezvous and plug to safe separation.  One wonders what this technology holds for the future of civil aviation.

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Airlines, Lost Bags and Customer Service … Oh My!

By Robert Mark on September 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

southwest2“Airlines lose bags sometimes. Get over it, ” a guy told me.

Yeah … right.

That nice warm fuzzy reality check didn’t work for me a few months ago when Southwest Airlines lost my daughter’s bag between MDW & LAX.

I’m pretty loyal to Southwest Airlines’ simply because they’ve always handled my travel pretty nicely even if they really did drop the ball this time around. But in the real world of airline flying, where passengers are often looked upon just a few steps above ground sirloin, I’ve come to realize our family experience could have been much, much worse. That said, how Southwest handled me was interesting … to say the least.

The Good and the Bad

Last April we headed to LAX for my daughter’s college orientation, a trip she’d planned and packed precisely “the right outfits” for in her checked bag. Unfortunately, when she and my wife arrived ahead of me at LAX, my daughter’s bag didn’t. Because I followed a day later, I stopped in at the Southwest bag office at MDW before I headed west.

“It’s not here,” a lady in the baggage office told me after looking up my claim number. “Isn’t there a lost bag room or someplace I can look in since I’m right here and I know what the bag looks like?” I asked. “Nope,” she said, abruptly so I left. Nice lady I thought.

During the flight, I Tweeted about the lost bag a few times, enough to catch the eye of the Southwest Twitter people, but that effort didn’t amount to anything either because the baggage folks at LAX had no info when I arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Friends, Forecasts & the Future of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on September 3rd, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, in some way or another, involved with aviation. Talking with them over the past months, the future of aviation seems to be the discourse destination of choice. On the whole, their outlook on aviation’s future isn’t good.

As might be expected, this consensus can lead to a semi-permanent state of depression. The best antidote I’ve so far found is Nate Silver’s excellent book, The Signal and The Noise: Why so many predictions fail—but some don’t. An infinitely complex subject, accuracy begins with the forecaster’s predictive personality, either a hedgehog or a fox.

These classifications were described by Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science at UC-Berkeley who named them after the main characters in a story by Leo Tolstoy. To summarize their differences, the fox knows many little things from different sources, the hedgehog knows “one big thing.”

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, it seems, hedgehogs, that Silver accurately described as “Type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas.” A few, and I include myself in this category, are foxes, those who “believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”

All-in individuals, aviation’s hedgehogs predict doom for aviation’s future, especially GA, citing everything from the decades-long decline in the pilot population, the price of airplanes and fuel, and the time and effort it takes to become a pilot whether it is for pleasure or a profession. On these metrics, I agree that aviation will never return to its former glory of the 20th century, but the probability that it will cease to exist is unlikely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Today is Labor Day

By Robert Mark on September 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off

Labor Day

Having been deeply involved with two major unions in my life … the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO) and finally for a short while, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), my father and grandfather both would surely turn over in their graves if I let Labor Day pass without sharing my two cents about what it means to me.

Of course I do realize that support for labor these days means I’ve indeed become a dinosaur. I’m thinking I kind of like that T-Rex guy though …

For those of you with an interest in the old days and a look at how we arrived where we are today, especially in the airline industry, allow me to point you to the radio segment I produced last year for the Geeks. It’s as relevant today as a year ago. Airplane Geeks Episode 212.5 – Labor Day.

Or if you prefer to read, here’s a link to a quick to some thoughts about why Labor Day should still be important to us here in the states.

Rob Mark

Two Professional Pilots … Missing

By Robert Mark on August 27th, 2013 | Comments Off

Two Turkish airline pilots have gone missing. The aircraft they flew to Beirut on August 9 is just fine, as is their cabin crew, but these two men simply vanished into thin air … and almost no one is talking about them.

MuratCaptain Murat Akpınar (L) and his first officer, Murat Ağca (Lower Right), were kidnapped August 9 from a crew bus as they left Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (OLBA), headed for their hotel. Syrian rebels claim to be holding them hostage for leverage in gaining the release of a number of Lebanese Shiites who were themselves kidnapped in Syria last year. The rebels believe the Turkish government can and should do more to pressure the Assad regime to release the Lebanese prisoners. Acga

No small surprise that Twitter and Facebook posts don’t carry the weight in Lebanon that they do elsewhere in the world, but if these had been two British Airways, or KLM or Air France pilots grabbed in Beirut, people would be hovering outside the embassies demanding answers We’d be tweeting and Facebooking all over the place. Not in Lebanon apparently and not for a couple of Turkish pilots.

When I queried the Turkish Air Line Pilots Association for an AIN story, they told me, “The Lebanese and the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs are handling this issue. We are also closely monitoring developments on this subject with the Turkish press spokesman of foreign affairs. This is a delicate situation; therefore, for the safety of our colleagues we cannot provide any further information. We have been working with great precision and are making every effort to ensure our colleagues return to their homes in good health and rejoin their families and us.” A Lebanese court did issue an arrest warrant last week for 10 individuals suspected of involvement with the abduction, but no one has been caught to date.

Turkish AirbusYesterday I asked the Turkish Airlines media people about the disappearance two and a half weeks ago. In a prepared statement, the airline’s Senior VP for media relations, Dr. Ali Genc would only say, “Please kindly be informed that this issue is followed up with the coordination of our relevant public authorities. We hope it will be resolved soon with good news. We are not able to make any further comments on that issue at this point.” In a couple of queries to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots (IFALPA) in Montreal, they too said they’d heard nothing.

Certainly no one wants to make a fragile situation worse for these two aviators, but at least when the Brazilians grabbed the two Legacy pilots in 2007, we knew they were alive. Not here though, except for a comment attributed to Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel that the pilots are in good health.

I’m left wondering … where’s the industry outrage and demand for information on these two … a photo, a recording, something? Perhaps readers elsewhere in the world can fill the rest of us in because no one seems to be talking.

What actions have the business aviation or airline community in the west taken to ensure the safety of other pilots headed to the region? I doubt carrying a weapon will sit very well with anyone. Security escorts perhaps? I realize the West is busy beating the tom-toms to take a whack at Mr. al-Assad, but is this kidnapping just the leading edge of a new wave of hostage taking with flight crews as bait? We can only hope not.

So stand by … and hope we see these two men soon … because right now, standing by seems to be all anyone is doing.

Rob Mark, publisher

Lindbergh’s Boyhood Adventures Led to Paris

By Scott Spangler on August 19th, 2013 | Comments Off

Bike-509A solo trans-Atlantic flight to Paris is the signature event in the iconic life of Charles Lindbergh, but it was, perhaps, not the most challenging or arduous. A visit to his boyhood home on the bank of the Mississippi River in Little Falls, Minnesota, revealed that in 1916, a 14-year-old Lindbergh spent 40 days on the “road” from Minnesota to California in a Saxon Light Six with his mother, his uncle, and Wahgoosh, his fox terrier. The car, now restored, still resides in its garage at the Minnesota Historical Society site.

My visit came on the last leg of a 16-day, 5,400-mile motorcycle trip to Seattle and back, mostly on the US highway system, which was created in 1926, a year before Lindbergh’s flight to Paris. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National System of Interstate and Defense Highway System into being in 1956, in part because he was one of 37 officers and 285 enlisted men who manned 81 Army vehicles in the First Transcontinental Motor Train that took three months to cover the distance between Washington, DC, and San Francisco in 1919.

In his Autobiography of Values, Lindbergh says little about the adventure. “There were rainy days in Missouri when mud collected on the Saxon’s wheels until we could not move. Frozen ruts in New Mexico slowed us down to a speed of less than ten miles an hour, as did Arizona sand.”

This was the era when paths that connected towns were marked with different color blazes painted on telegraph poles and fence posts. The prime transcontinental route was the Lincoln Highway, which stretched from New York City to San Francisco and was dedicated in 1913. I wonder, would parents today allow their 14-year-old to make Lindbergh’s trip?

Read the rest of this entry »

AirVenture: Airplane Geeks Invade Oshkosh

By Robert Mark on August 5th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

When people call me a “Geek” these days, I accept it as a term of endearment, especially with the advent of social media. In fact, that’s why our radio show’s called The Airplane Geeks. It’s actually pretty cool to be a geek.

airventureBut it’s time to come clean and admit that there’s actually a storm brewing — a nice storm if you will — of buzz about aviation as an industry and the companies and airports that help keep it aloft sorely need.

Geekdom is about the kind of buzz that traditional media just can’t top either.  That’s because we social media types look into corners of our industry often missed … for the people behind the stories of the stuff that makes the industry tick. Hook up a bunch of aviation geeks with an event like AirVenture in Oshkosh – the largest airshow in North America BTW – and the result is the purest nirvana. Luckily, we aviation social media geeks were blessed early on by EAA folks like Dick Knapinski (@eaaupdate) who took us new media types seriously before anyone else, not to mention Scott Spangler who again made Jetwhine a popular stopping point all week. And we can’t forget the folks at Wittman Regional Airport who each year lend EAA their concrete for a few weeks.

In case you’re not yet an airplane geek, here are a few things you might have missed during last week’s mashup of aviation and social media.

Dan 1

Wednesday of last week Dan Pimental from the Airplanista blog pulled out all the stops with the first ever Airplanista awards for the social-media savvy people who had a role the past year in making aviation more … well, social.

Dan runs Celeste Daniels Advertising and Design by day. But in his off hours, his alter-ego is all airplanes and hence his idea for the first (annual?) #OSHbash to recognize the people who, in their own unique ways, were using social media to make aviation popular again. And the winners were, along with their Twitter handles …

Airplanista of the Year: @OpenAirplane (Rod Rakic @rodrakic/Adam Fast @adamcanfly)

Podcaster of the Year @JackHodgson (Jack Hodgson)

Most Innovative Use of Twitter @EAAupdate (Dick Knapinski)

Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year @PilotsFlightBag (Paul Lemley)

Mover/Shaker Award @Captain_Ron (Ron Klutts)

Volunteer of the Year @MartinSantic (Martin Santic)

Spirit of Airplanista Award @Wiredforflight (Sam Wiltzuis)

Future of Aviation Award @THM_18 (Thomson Meeks

Master of Snark Award @Airplanology (Ben Davison)

Congeniality Award @LarryOverstreet (Larry Overstreet) Read the rest of this entry »

Patience Earns LSA Weight Exemption for Spin Resistant Icon A5

By Scott Spangler on July 29th, 2013 | Comments Off

634A3383More than a year ago Icon Aircraft petitioned the FAA for an exemption from the LSA max weight limit so it would incorporate the structure that made the A5 fully meet the FAA Part 23 standard for spin resistance. Announcement that the FAA granted that exemption, allowing the amphibious LSA to fly at a max gross weight of 1,680 pounds, started EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on a positive note on July 29.

Some have criticized the FAA for taking 14 months to respond to Icon’s request, but after reading the 17-page exemption document, given the process, the FAA moved with alacrity. Formal petitions for exemptions are like notices of proposed rule making. They must be published in the Federal Register, and people have time to comment on them. And then the FAA must respond to each of those comments.

After working through its process, the FAA said, “the combined design features and SRA [spin resistant airframe] concepts incorporated into the ICON A5 design…are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.”

634A3381And Icon isn’t stopping there. An angle of attack indicator has always been a member of the airplane’s instrument family, but the latest iteration of the panel puts a clearly understood indicator top dead center. And instead of spouting thousands of words about why it’s important, it makes a clear and simple point in a video that shows the AOA indication as the A5 makes a 180-degree turn in a 90 degree bank.

Icon CEO Kirk Hawkins said the first four A5s, which will be dedicated to certification, will come off the line early in 2014. And if all goes according to schedule with a successful conclusion, customers will start flying away their airplanes late in the year. And with candor all too rare when it comes to developing a new product, Hawkins said there is “no free lunch.” The A5 list price, reflecting the SRA structure, more expensive Rotax 912 iS engine, and other features, the list price has increased to $189,000. When one looks at the return of safety and outright enjoyment that this investment makes possible, it is truly one of aviation’s better deals. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Bloggers Play a Significant Role in Aviation Media

By Robert Mark on July 23rd, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Every aviation blogger I’ve ever met is certain they possess a magic grasp on their own little corner of the industry, which is of course why we all do what we do.

Some bloggers are just better writers than others, or better marketers of their magazines or are simply luckier than the rest … maybe even some combination of all three. We offer a look at some aspect of the industry the mainstream media either doesn’t see or believes no one cares much about in general aviation, the airlines, business aviation and safety. Then of course, there are the aviation stories the mainstream media simply don’t understand too.

There is a black hole in new media though since anyone can hang out an “expert” shingle. Honestly, some industry speculators are really lousy at explaining anything, not to mention just plain wrong at times. A growing number of aviation netizens have started getting cranky lately when any of us new-media types start trying to educate the media about aviation and I think that’s a mistake.

Asiana

As a kid who earned his pilot certificates in the general aviation world before moving on to bigger iron, I’m always excited when the mainstream media contacts me for an explanation or opinion because they’re already acknowledging they don’t have all the answers, but want them. Often it’s something simple like translating aviation speak into a language the other 99% of the people in America can understand. Other topics are more serious, like a few weeks ago after the Asiana 777 accident in San Francisco. Reporters and producers called in search of someone to help make sense out of an industry they understand little about, not to mention explaining the facts as they emerged that weekend. And certainly in the Asiana accident, the NTSB made my job easier by releasing facts as they appeared early in the process.

Jail the Speculators?

I see my media sessions as a chance to give something back to people who want to know more … people who often have no more connection to aviation than buying a seat on an airliner or watching the trainers fly patterns at their local airport. I certainly have no allegiance to any particular network, which is why my mug was plastered around quite a bit on Fox News, NBC and CNN after the SFO accident. On the radio, calls came in from WGN Radio in Chicago, WLW from Cincinnati and WTMJ in Milwaukee. I found all the hosts bright and cordial and all needed the same thing … to help their viewers and listeners understand aviation by adding the perspective of someone who flies, teaches and writes about the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Taxation Instead of Aviation User Fees

By Scott Spangler on July 15th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Inadequate revenue from aviation taxes on fuel and tickets, which fund the U.S. aviation infrastructure and the agency that regulates it, is how some in the FAA justify their desire for user fees to make up the difference. Before they go there, why doesn’t government catch up with current airline business practices and include the myriad fees that are not subject to the ticket tax.

Looking at untaxed airline baggage fees.

We’re taking some serious money here, an average of $250 million a year from baggage fees alone, according to a Washington Post article, “As airlines raise fees instead of fares, taxpayers pick up the tab.”  As the article’s graphic above shows, between 2007 and 2012 the airlines collected $12.8 billion in baggage fees. At the 7.5 percent ticket tax rate, that’s $960 million in lost revenue. During the same period, the airlines charged another $11 billion to change a ticket.

Simply put, airline fees not subject to the ticket tax is one reason why aviation revenue has not kept pace with its costs. Let’s face it, we’d all like tax-free income, but it is not fair to anyone who pays the fees and uses the system. The DoT took the first step in its fiduciary responsibilities when it required airlines to include all applicable fees when passengers bought a ticket. Making the total subject to the ticket tax seem the logical next step.

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With Air Show ATC Fees, the FAA is Following the Airlines’ Lead

By Scott Spangler on July 1st, 2013 | 27 Comments »

Searching for a scintilla of logic behind the FAA’s ATC fees  for the air traffic control services it provides at fly-ins, I realized that the roughly $500,000 bill it sent EAA AirVenture Oshkosh was, in effect, an airline baggage fee. From either source, forget all their trumpeted rationalizations. That nonsense drowned in the fetid swamp of cynicism government and big business long ago created as they redeveloped society so that it met their needs at the expense of their customers.

In other words, they did it because they could.

Government has been trying to recreate an airline business model of charging fees for everything, and sequestration gave them the “authorization” to do it. What’s really ironic is that airline fees, which are not taxed like tickets or fuel, contribute no revenue to the aviation infrastructure, airports, capital improvements, and FAA operations including ATC. Yup, airline fees are a parasite, and to make up for the financial nutrition it sucks from the system, FAA is starting with ATC fees.

According to the Washington Post, since they started the practice, the airlines have collected $12.8 billion in fees for something that was once free. In 2012 they collected $924 million—that’s right, nearly a billion dollars—in baggage fees, a 3 percent increase over the same period in 2011. Oh, and baggage fees are not taxed like airline tickets. With the aviation fuel tax, this ticket revenue pays for the American aviation infrastructure, at least until FAA fees on all the services it provides takes over.

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Make & Read Pilot/IFR Training Comments

By Scott Spangler on June 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

 

Photo: Michael Pieracci

With just 130 or so comments received by the May 24 deadline, I guess the FAA felt it didn’t have enough flight training comments on its Draft Airman Certification Standards that its Airman Testing Standards & Training Work Group created for the private pilot certificate and instrument rating.

If you care, you have until July 8 to review the standards and comment on them. And even if you’ve been flying for years, you should care because you’ll be sharing the sky with pilots trained to these standards. A nifty website lets you read and comment on Docket FAA-2013-0316.

An interesting aspect of this website is that you can read the 140 comments posted as of Saturday, June 15. This is more fun than Facebook! And it can be more beneficial because it seems that you can comment on the comments, which builds an argument for and against the proposals.

Ready access to the comments also enables flaming wars of words that serve no other purpose than polishing one’s favorite ax. In wandering through the comments, I was heartened to see that, so far, that aviation has not been poisoned, like our political discourse, with zero-sum attitudes.

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Should We Teach Pilot Judgment?

By Robert Mark on June 12th, 2013 | 22 Comments »

CirrusI was just watching the animation of an Cirrus SR-22 accident caused by poor pilot judgment near Boynton Beach, Fla. in November 2011. The crash claimed the lives of two pilots. “More money than sense,” was all I could think to say after watching, although the “blind leading the blind” might have also fit.

The NTSB report blamed the accident on, “The right seat pilot’s decision to attempt a low-altitude aerobatic maneuver in a non-aerobatic airplane.”

The more experienced right seat pilot seemed to have been showing the lesser-time left seat aviator how to roll the SR-22 over an open field at a GPS-derived altitude of 29 feet above the ground. The right-seater apparently never actually took any aerobatic training however.

The NTSB report says, “The accident airplane … began a roll to the left, and, as the airplane rolled toward an inverted attitude, the pitch quickly began decreasing below the horizon. The airplane then began a rapid descent and impacted the marsh below in a 68-degree nose-down pitch attitude. Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine that would preclude normal operation.”

So was it training, or a lack of it that caused the commercially-rated right seat pilot to try this stunt? Was it the fact that the adrenalin was flowing steadily in both of these guys because the two of them were on the way back from a local air show and were flying in formation with a couple of actually-certified aerobatic airplanes?

Somehow, calling the pilot stupid here seems a bit too simplistic.

To me, the real question is whether anyone ever told this guy that he could actually kill himself in an airplane by trying stupid stunts like this. But then, do we really need to say that? Considering the number of fatalities in general aviation airplanes the past years, maybe we do. But I wondered whether trying to tell this pilot anything would have avoided this accident.

In case you’re wondering, the pilot didn’t pull the Cirrus’ chute. At that low of an altitude, it wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

Watch an animation of the flight created by Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association’s Rick Beach from the SR-22’s data stream. Note: The Cirrus incorporates a mini-black box of sorts in the MFD that records each flight’s date, time, altitude, attitude and power setting.

Airplane Geeks Coming to Udvar-Hazy

By Robert Mark on June 4th, 2013 | Comments Off

Just about the time you thought you’d have a Saturday free to kick back and goof off comes word that The Airplane Geeks will again be a part of the Air & Space Museum’s Become a Pilot Day on June 15th. Now of course if you live outside the Washington DC area, you might not care — although that would be hard for any of us to believe.

AG at A&S

(L-R) – Rob Mark, Max Flight, David Vanderhoof and Benet Wilson

But if you do live around the DC area and find yourself with a little free time on Saturday June 15th, come on out to the Boeing Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport … oh, maybe about 11 am or so.

It’s your chance to comer out, say hi, meet some geeks — me of course, David, Max and even AOPA’s Benet Wilson. Maybe take part in the show if you have something to say. We’d love to meet and chat with you.

Of course we’ll have plenty of Jetwhine and Airplane Geeks buttons to give away which will probably make the trip worthwhile alone … well, at least to me.

We’re not sure precisely where we’ll be set up at Udvar-Hazy Center just yet, but someone will be able to point us out. Inside the Boeing Hangar, we’ll probably be the bunch that security has to keep asking to “keep the noise down.”

So put it in your calendar for June 15 between 11am & 2pm at the Udvar Hazy Center and the Dulles edition of the Air & Space Museum.

We’ll be looking for you.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Aircraft Development Awaits Disruptive Tech

By Scott Spangler on May 28th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Catching up on the news after a two-week vacation that was, like my last two week respite in 1975, totally disconnected from the wider world, on May 5 The New York Times reported that there are new aircraft designs in the works because “Jet Makers Avoid Risk by Redoing Old Models.”

Certainly, the realities of business weigh heavily in decisions that lead to new airplanes, but so does the state of aviation technology. Right now it seems to have reached a plateau, as piston-powered propellers had during World War II. Aviation will take the next big step when the disruptive technology, like the jet engines, appears on the horizon.

What that technology will be is anyone’s guess, and I’m sure the tech geeks might have more of a clue than I. But right now the technology that will lead to a sea change in aerospace designs and their capabilities it is not readily apparent.

So why not make proven aerial workhorses more efficient? Unlike other aspect of modern life, aviation does not easily fit into our disposable society, where new is better. If that were true, why is the DC-3 still earning its keep as the Basler Turbo Conversion BT-67?

Read the rest of this entry »

DOT Secretary: Out with the Old and in with … the Old

By Robert Mark on May 22nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »

After we recorded this week’s episode of the Airplane Geeks Show, I decided to turn over a new leaf and stop whining about people like the new DOT Secretary. To be honest, I had a little motivational help from our guest Jason Paur (@jasonpaur), a Wired magazine writer and an admitted airplane geek. Prior to the show I’d read his excellent story at Medium.com called Lift and Drag that wonders what happened to our love of flight. It’s worth reading.

Jason explained the upshot of his exploits at Medium.com and mentioned as an industry it might be time for a little less editorial whining and a little more aviation love. And Jason, I must confess that as a confirmed complainer, I heard you. And God knows I really do want to curb my appetite for calling people out.

That said however, I don’t think I can pull the reigns in this week after reading clips from The Hill’s Transportation blog about Mr. Obama’s Secretary selection, Anthony Foxx, to replace Ray LaHood.

Anthony Foxx

DOT Secretary nominee Anthony Foxx

As a guy from one of Mr. Obama’s home states, in addition to Ray LaHood’s, I promised myself I’d try and keep my mouth shut when the former mayor of Charlotte was first named to fill the slot. Jason … I really did try … honest.

But then The Hill’s Keith Laing reminded me some critics are upset because Foxx has no transportation experience. Will that even become a topic at today’s Senate hearing on Mr. Foxx’s confirmation I wondered? And of course it was about then that I remembered the Transportation slot is one of those department head positions the White House hands out to friends for good PR, because really … how much trouble can a Transportation Secretary get themselves into? Airport or ATC service funding falling apart on your watch … no big deal. The Foxx will fix it. Read the rest of this entry »

Unprofessional Airmanship Redefined

By Robert Mark on May 6th, 2013 | 32 Comments »

Remember when we called those two Northwest Airlines pilots who missed Minneapolis a few years back unprofessional because they were playing on their laptops instead of flying? We poked fun at them of course and well, no one was hurt … except for the pride of these two supposed professional aviators. But maybe we should have been tougher.

We talk a lot about professionalism these days, mostly because us old guys think many of the younger folks coming up the line don’t understand the meaning of the word. Perhaps they don’t because we’ve never taken the time to explain it … literally. I guess most of us never thought we needed to, but now I’m convinced that there are pilots jumping into some pretty large airplanes that seem completely unaware of their role as professional aviators.

A321Case in point is the Air India A321 on a recent flight between Bangkok and Delhi in which the two pilots actually left the cockpit of the aircraft within moments of each other at FL330, leaving command of the airliner in the hands of two non-pilot flight attendants. The pilots were both out of the cockpit for almost 40 minutes before one of the young flight attendants turned off the autopilot inadvertently and sent the two licensed aviators scurrying back up front. The two pilots as well as the two flight attendants were later suspended from work for their actions. None of the passengers knew what had happened until they read it in the newspapers.

To call this act unsafe is utterly too simplistic.

Despite the fact that most aviation accidents today are caused by pilot error, we’ve apparently reached a new low in professional pilot stupidity. What could possibly possess two high-time pilots to think that getting up mid-flight and leaving the fate of the 166 aboard to the two female seat monitors who were not even pilots was OK? My guess is this was not the first stupid decision these two made and more importantly, professionalism has nothing to do with the size of the aircraft someone flies. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday Morning Surprise at Flight Schools

By Scott Spangler on April 29th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Monarch-6Wandering around Addison Airport, a busy Dallas-area reliever, one Monday morning in late April, I dropped in, unannounced, at the airport’s four flight schools. Given the day and hour, I assumed they wouldn’t be busy and would have time to talk. Surprise is an inadequate word to describe their bustling student activity, that they offered warm, sincere greetings when I walked through the door, and that they took time to talk, even when they learned that I wasn’t a prospective student but just curious.

Monarch Air runs a fleet of Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna 172s and a similarly-equipped flight training device. Touring the facility and ramp, the instructors were mostly in their 20s and the half-dozen students I saw ranged from an equal age to double it. Everyone seemed engrossed in their particular lessons, but the body language of both students and teachers spoke the loudest: they were serious, but having fun. Smiles and shining eyes don’t lie.

ATP-4Similar environments and teaching activity awaited me at Airline Transport Professionals (or ATP) and American Flyers. Both offer professional and personal training, and both were in session during these two visits. The students I saw at ATP looked like they were somewhere on either side of 30, except for the guy in the school’s computer testing facility. A Piper Seminole was parked on the ramp, and I assumed the student I saw briefing with his instructor would soon slide into its left seat.

Read the rest of this entry »

Being There: UAV Crews & Combat Valor

By Scott Spangler on April 25th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Bowing to pressure from military and veterans groups who clearly don’t understand the rigors of combat at the controls of armed drones, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has replaced the proposed Distinguished Warfare Medal with a device that will be affixed to an existing award.

The award’s ranking relative to other military awards was part of the opponents’ complaints, but they revealed their true motivation when they called it the “Nintendo” medal. What matters most to them is “being there” in battle, and all they see are the drone pilots’ distant duty stations.

As the number of combatants suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome increases, everyone should accept that the consequences of combat are more than physical. In this regard, remote pilots and their enlisted system operators share an intimate relationship with death unequaled, except by snipers, who also see the faces of their targets.

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Sometimes Saying No is Just Plane Stupid

By Robert Mark on April 22nd, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Looking back on the decade of my life I spent working at FAA I remember one thing for certain. When someone at the agency told me “No,” the reasons were seldom clear.

“No,” might have meant something as simple as “No,” because I don’t agree with that idea or even “No,” because the idea came from me. Sometimes “No,” meant my boss didn’t know the answer and he or she didn’t want to ask anyone else. Or sometimes “No,” meant my boss actually did know the answer and it came from pretty high up so just deal with it. Of course I haven’t worked at FAA for 25 years.

FAA-Logo_thumb.jpgAs the Sunday deadline to begin controller furloughs passed last, airline passengers, business aviation operaorts and even flight training companies have no idea what’s coming next now that sequestration-induced furloughing of air traffic controllers has begun. Air traffic delays could be ugly now that FAA decided air traffic controllers are no longer essential personnel … nor are safety inspectors or the technicians that keep all the electronic gear the FAA uses up and running.

Think about that new “non-essential” ATC tag for a moment. I recall the Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole and I chatting just a few weeks ago about how ATC was considered an essential government service to people who did not support privitization. Now FAA says these folks are not really that important. The FAA never raised the issue of controllers not being essential until this week, when that move worked in their favor.

Aviation Takes Another Right to the Jaw

When FAA was asked by Airlines for America (A4A), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to take a deep breath and rethink the furloughs, perhaps the same way the FAA did (OK, they were pressured into it) the issue of contract tower closures, the agency said no, claiming they don’t have that kind of budget flexibility. We all believe that don’t we, especially when the agency somehow managed to find the cash to extend contract tower discussions until mid-June.

Of course the essential question is why aviation? That answer’s actually pretty simple.

LaHood

About now, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is probably wondering where is replacement is.

Mr. Huerta and his team said no, because our pragmatic DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told them to say no. And of course, Mr. (did my resignation take effect yet?) LaHood takes his marching orders from the White House who has decided that aviation is the one place in the nation where the Democrat’s scolding of Republicans will have the greatest effect. Read the rest of this entry »